In-laws

We spent the last two months in the Al-Khobar compound sleeping and living in the tiny room on the top floor just inside the roof area. We were all packed up and ready to move to the new Riyadh compound, but first a much needed trip to Damascus would be made.  It had been 9 long years since my first trip to Syria where I secured my father- in- law’s blessing for our marriage. I was a young mother to an 8 month old and 2 months pregnant with my second child. Morning sickness crept over me but I held my own and vowed to obtain the much needed approval from his family. I gained much more on the 5 week stay, a second family who loved me and whom I adored. Now 9 years later here I stood once again preparing to enter Syria. The first trip many years before had been difficult and entering through customs took 3 hours. When I tried to pass through the gate, holding my baby and nervously stumbling through the process with my kindergarten Arabic, they looked me over and asked repeatedly, “American? Muslim? where husband?” Hands waived me back and so I sat looking through my form again trying to make sense of this delay. I checked boxes, looked over names and dates and proceeded once again to the counter. Stern men rambled off orders in Arabic and gestured for me to go back and try again.  As hours passed I was not sure what to do until a kindly older gentlemen entered the customs terminal. He walked towards me with a gentle look on his face unlike the men at the counter who seemed to grimace when they spoke.  “Madam Lynn?” he looked at me with inquiring eyes as comforting English words came from his curved up mouth. I recognized him as an older cousin who had visited briefly in Seattle while attending a seminar. He handed me two more forms and asked me to quickly fill them out and then exited the room.  We were finally allowed to pass through and onto the main airport, holding my baby on my hip and dragging my luggage I made my way out to family. Brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins all crowded around to get a look at the American lady and her baby. They hugged, kissed my cheeks, grabbed my screaming baby, carted my luggage and took my possessions.  Now, many years later I stood once again, but this time with 6 children all under the age of 9. It seemed as if nothing had changed in those years, the same faces and happenings, utter and beautiful chaos.

This time going through customs was easy and we walked those same steps to the main terminal where relatives stood waiting. They grabbed each child, hugs and kisses, blessings in Arabic and dua (asking God to protect someone) made for their good health and future life.  It was as if time had not moved in 9 years, the airport and the people were all the same. The children were stunned and overwhelmed, confused and dazed they stood grabbing my stained and wrinkled abaya as they hid behind me.  Aunts, uncles, brothers and cousins all stood before us arguing over who would go in each car. We piled into cars and made our way through the streets and freeways to the apartment of my father- in-law. The children had never seen a city like Damascus, honking , hands waving, 5 cars crowding into the one lane, carts pulled by donkeys with watermelon stacked in the back, tall apartment buildings stood unfinished shells, dotted with fully furnished residences, people sitting sipping tea while the whole building around them stood disheveled. The sites and sounds of Damascus were a world away from the modern streets of Saudi, lined with large Suv’s, and new vehicles, ladies sitting in the back looking out through tinted windows. In other middle eastern countries women can drive but few do because money is hard to come by and cars are a luxury. Damascus was literally alive and bustling with people, a contrast to the slow moving, sleepy life of Riyadh.  We approached the apartment building and the cars that followed lined up and parked. It was a pleasant blur of people, sights and sounds. All of the kids had piled into one car with me, except the 2 older boys who went with their Amu (uncle).

We walked up the 6 flights of cement stairs not able to use the elevator because electricity was off, as it was 2 hours each and every day throughout the year in Damascus.  As we rounded the last stairwell we heard people talking and laughing and I knew it was time to start our visit.  I saw my mother- in- law’s teary face as she reached forward to grab the baby and cradled her.  My father- in -law was sitting in the guest room waiting. I walked in and gave him my “salams” (greeting) and showed him due respect. He laughed and looked at all of the children naming them off one by one asking them to come and sit with him. The two older boys walked forward, hand extended to shake and give their proper greetings. The little ones sat crouched next to me still dazed and frightened. Jido (Grandfather) owned a dry cleaning business in the most upscale part of Damascus which was near the Western embassies.  English speaking people came to his shop daily and he had learned to speak fairly well in order to help customers. We sat around him as he asked me how each person in my family was, their health, jobs and life. Relatives soon filled the room,  people sat in chairs and pads on the floor. They could not imagine me, “Madam Lynn”  sitting on the floor, abaya scrunched up behind me with a baby, 2 and 3 year old clinging to me. This new environment was something the children had not experienced. We sat at home in Saudi isolated from the outside world, except for school and neighbors.  I was not accustomed to sitting with men and had no male friends, and here among his family it seemed some how strange, men mixing with women and people laughing, joking. We spent the next month there with a set routine.  We woke up to speak with Jido (grandfather) while he took his breakfast before leaving for the shop. After 10 a.m. aunts and closer relatives would come to sit, visit, help with the meal and stay the whole day. The next wave of people were cousins who would come several times a week and distant cousins who might make this one and only trip. The house was full of people from morning until night.  By afternoon it was empty and we would retreat to our room to unwind. In the evening the stream of visitors would start up again and last until at least midnight. Long time family friends came, neighbors and friends that he had know many years before. Each and every day was filled with visiting, this is the heart of Arab life.

When family comes it is relaxed, a tray with tea, some fruit, everyone sits on the floor in the family room. When people who are not immediate family make the visit it is much different. Everyone sits in the “sitting room” lined with the best furniture the family can afford, couches, glass tables, decor that ladies buy and place around to make a home. The visitors are served Arabic coffee, pastries, then fruit, tea and finally water. It is a big production and each person much be served, tea poured for them into tiny glass cups.

The month came to an end and we got ready to head back to Riyadh and our new life in the company compound. The last day was filled with tears, promises to return soon and blessings once again placed on our heads. We made the same drive back to the airport and said our goodbyes.

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street where in-laws live

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near apartment of in laws

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Damascus

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Near the apartment

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124 thoughts on “In-laws

  1. What a beautiful memory to share. I have heard that Damascus is/was a beautiful city full of history. The inflow and outflow of visitors and warm reception reminds me of what life is like when I stay with my relatives in India. Thanks, Lynn, and happy weekend to you! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

      1. It sounds so similar! When I visit India, I find that there’s a natural flow to how connected people are and boundaries seem a bit more fluid, especially when it comes to personal space and privacy. It makes me miss my family overseas, actually. I hope to go back with my parents next year! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  2. So fascinating, Lynn! Such a difference being surrounded with friends and family coming to visit often! You tell your story so beautifully — I feel as if I’m walking right into the home with you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Damascus was one of my favourite cities and Syria was one of my favourite countries. It’s heartbreaking that so much has changed there. I’ve enjoyed reading your memory of this last visit and hope that your husband’s family remains safe and well.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Lynn! I really felt your bravery, again, trying to get through customs – and then the male cousin came to help. I you just kept persevering until it worked OUT! Your Syrian in-laws sound really amazing. I wonder how HE became so different…kind of sad, with so much apparent close family. Hugs to you, and thanks for your wonderful writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Lynn! I really felt your bravery, again, trying to get through customs – and then the male cousin came to help. You just kept persevering until it worked OUT! Your Syrian in-laws sound really amazing. I wonder how HE became so different…kind of sad, with so much apparent close family. Hugs to you, and thanks for your wonderful writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sitting at my table in France the morning after the dreadful events in Paris last night, it is quite comforting to read of the normal people in Syria. I am unswerving in my belief that we must not demonise a people but I fear that other’s will jump on the anti-Arabic, anti-muslim bandwagon that inevitably accompanies the actions, disgraceful, unspeakable actions of the extremists. Your words, your story has never been more needed 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What hideous and awful attacks on the whole world. Hearing of this makes it an attack on all of us, horrifying and sick!! I hope you are ok! I feel so sad. The sad thing is people like my in laws and the average person pay dearly for these nasty crimes as you have said in your comment! You are a kind and lovely soul!! The average people live in fear daily, I am not a political person but when I went to syria they were afraid of everything! When I left they were fearful and all gathered, a family meeting just fearful of me leaving at the airport!!! no reason just worried. So it was not a fun trip but I tried to put it in the light of what it was, a wonderful family loving me. Entering their airport was scary and that is one reason I did not go back for years! Thanks so much

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  7. What a frustrating experience, the first time round for you Lynn. Fortunately the second time went smoother. I have to admit, as much as it was a lovely visit and your in-laws sound lovely and hospitable, it seemed so tiring, with constant family and friends visiting. It is a very different culture, and I am sure was quite overwhelming for the kids.

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    1. Well I wrote this in a totally positive light, when he did different things which I wont say what ugh they supported and loved me and were against him! They were mad and would not speak to him so I feel a love for them although major differences and issues, because they have always stuck up for me and my kids! It was scary and i dreaded going! a bathroom with a hole in the floor in a tiny closet like room. a second bathroom with a toilet that was always plugged, dark and the kids were afraid to go in alone, people around all the time, I only have 1 sibling, so for me and the kids very overwhelming! ha ha but they are lovely and so i wanted to portray it in the best light. So yes you are right:) When i moved here he cut me off, threatened me, I called my mother in law who FIXED it and got him to buy a home etc.!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It is really a way to say thanks to my in laws who accepted me! So I didn’t want to say anything negative and never do. Nothing is perfect but many ladies that I knew had a family who did not want them and it never changed! Thanks for reading

      Liked by 2 people

    1. oh yes, life for them was not fun, not accepted at school or treated nicely. Great prejudice towards them being “Palestinian” because in the middle east you are what your father is, and kids said they were poor refugees, they know nothing about that life at all and didnt identify as being palestinian, then being American also came with negatives. So, here in America they can be who they are! so they all like it better here! people here say oh hmm interesting and that is it!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It must have been difficult for you to leave? Not knowing exactly what you would be returning to, after being surrounded by the love and acceptance they showed you? I am grateful for them, that you have people on your side Lynn. 😊 Thank you for the positivity 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lynz…you really do know how to bring into sharp focus the details of your life. I am so glad you write so well because it gives me, and many others, an opportunity to learn and see different places and cultures. I am happy for you because you will have in written form this record of a wonderful loving experience. May your family be safe. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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